Press conference with The Hon John McVeigh MP, Senator Jim Molan and Cr Rowena Abbey

Senator Jim Molan: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome almost to the electorate of Eden-Monaro here in the edge of Eden-Monaro in Hall. We’re very fortunate today in that we have the Deputy Prime Minister with us, who is here in his capacity, I’m assuming, as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. We also have Minister John McVeigh, who’s the Minister for Regional Development; and we also have the Mayor of the Yass Valley Council, Abbey, welcome, and we’re in your territory.

But we’re really here today to talk about making the Barton Highway safer and more efficient so that people can get to work, get their kids into school and do everything both safer and faster.

Deputy Prime Minister would you like to say a few words?

Michael McCormack: Thank you, Senator Molan, and it is great to be here and it’s great to be here with John McVeigh, my ministerial colleague. It’s also great to be here with Rowena Abbey, the Mayor of Yass Valley Council.

I’ve had a number of discussions with Rowena over the years about the importance of the Barton Highway, duplicating it. The fact that Canberra Airport has built up over the years means that there’s more trucks on the Barton. The fact that it’s such a destination of interest for tourists means that there’s more travellers on the Barton. The fact that many more people are travelling from Murrumbateman—which has just mushroomed in recent years, it’s really, really grown—means that there’s more travellers on the Barton.

It’s a very, very busy highway. It does need duplication. The Federal Government recognises that and that is why, as part of the Roads of Strategic Importance—a $3.5 billion fund in the 2018 Budget—there is $100 million going towards the Barton Highway.

This is on top of the $50 million commitment made previously. That was in conjunction with the New South Wales Government, which also provided $50 million. So that’s $200 million towards the Barton Highway, towards duplication.

There is a business case at the moment to make sure that the priorities for the Barton are examined, put in detail, but you can expect to see work begin next year on this important duplication. Getting people home sooner and safer, getting people to their destination sooner and safer. This is about saving lives. This is a good announcement. This is a good commitment. It is new money - $100 million of new money—under the Roads of Strategic Importance.

As I said, it’s a $3.5 billion national fund, right around the countryside, making sure that Australians get to where they need to get in time, but safer and sooner and making sure that this is a priority road.

We understand how important Yass Valley is to Canberra. Rowena Abbey and I have had a number of discussions over many years about just how important this road is and we’ll continue to have those discussions, but more pleasingly, that $100 million is going to go to laying bitumen, to duplicating the road and to making sure that it’s far safer.


John McVeigh: Thank you, DPM. Well, as Regional Development and Local Government Minister, it’s really important to be here with the Deputy Prime Minister, local Senator Jim Molan; of course, in particular, the local Mayor Rowena Abbey.

And I’d recognise very much that the Barton is an important link between broader regional areas of New South Wales and our national capital. So we’re fair dinkum about regional development and I believe that’s where the future of the country lies—in developing regional Australia.

We must ensure we have these linkages between the regions and our capital cities. And that’s what we have focused on with this upgrade of the Barton Highway, as the Deputy Prime Minister has outlined.

I’m particularly thrilled to note that this is an effort between the three levels of Government. Mayor, to have Local Government stepping up with State, and particularly Federal Government, I think is a great sign, a great sign of focusing on what’s necessary for this important part of the world.

Rowena Abbey, Mayor of Yass Valley Council: Thank you.

I just want to say particularly thank you to all three of you for actually being here. This is a momentous occasion, really, for our community and I think that the point was made that this is Local Government working really closely with community.

Local Government, State Government and the Federal Government, to actually get a wonderful outcome for not only our community, but as said, the whole of the southern region.

This is a connector road between the ACT and Melbourne and South Australia. So, this is actually a critical route. We have been lobbying hard and long and I think, to the credit of both the State and the Federal Government, they have listened to our concerns that we have been raising and we have an absolutely fantastic result for not only our community, but the whole of the south of the State of New South Wales.

So, to all three of you, thank you very much on behalf of our community. Thank you.

Michael McCormack: Any questions?

Journalist: How far do you anticipate this 100 million to stretch, literally?

Michael McCormack: Well, the $50 million that was committed previously by the Federal Government in conjunction with the $50 million that the New South Wales State government have also committed, that will take it from the border to almost Murrumbateman. And a business case is being developed at the moment to see where the next priority stage is.

The Barton is 52 kilometres; there is 33 kilometres of single lanes. And we want to make sure that the whole road gets duplicated.

I drive this road very, very often. I live in Wagga Wagga, I drive this road generally twice a week. So, I know full well how it is priority. I know full well how dangerous it can be when you’re travelling late at night, which is usually the case for me, there’s big B-Doubles, there’s impatient drivers who are wanting to get back to Canberra quicker. And I would urge and stress to those people—to anybody using this road—to make sure they drive to the conditions and make sure they obey the rules.

We’ve seen far too many fatalities on the Barton. And we want to make sure that people are able to get to where they need to be sooner and safer.

That’s why we’re duplicating it, that’s why we’re making sure that this commitment under the Roads to Strategic Importance is happening today. That’s why we’ve already committed—as the Federal Government $150 million on top of the New South Wales Government’s $50 million. $200 million will go a long way towards making the road safer, but of course there’s still more work to do. And as time progresses we’ll make sure that happens too.

Journalist: Is there a timeframe of when all this will be complete?

Michael McCormack: Well, not necessarily all complete. But certainly the $200 million that is down on the table now, and the business case that’s happening, will make sure that the work to begin next year will happen then continuously.

Journalist: Do you hope that the ACT Government might see this as, I suppose, some encouragement and they’ll also come to the negotiating table or put some money up?

Michael McCormack: Well, that would be good. And we’ve seen just in recent times with the development the Canberra Raiders doing, which the New South Wales Government has chipped in, a Canberra facility. We’ve seen that the two Governments can work together—the ACT and the New South Wales Coalition State Government. We’ve seen that they can work together, and that’s always to be encouraged.

You’ve heard Senator Molan say today—and John McVeigh as well, the Minister for Regional Development looking after Local Government—just how beneficial it is when all three tiers of government can work together; local, state and federal government. We’re seeing that here in the Barton duplication today.

Question: As Mayor Abbey said there has been some community lobbying for quite some time. What, I guess, was the tipping point in terms of getting this specific funding for duplication?

Michael McCormack: Well, it’s always been a priority; it has always been a priority. And, of course, community input has been valuable and that has gone towards making sure that we know, as a Government, what roads need to be developed. But there’s highways and byways and dirt roads right around Australia that the Federal Government is looking at to helping Local Government by way of Roads to Recovery, by way of Roads of Strategic Importance, and as part of our overall $75 billion infrastructure investment in our nation.

The bucket of money is only so full, and we’re doing everything that we can in conjunction with State Governments and Local Government as well. But Local Government is where it starts, Rowena Abbey has done a fantastic job advocating for this road. I’ve listened, as has John McVeigh, and Senator Molan is here in Eden-Monaro very often talking to local community groups, seeing what their needs and wants and expectations and demands are, and taking that back to Canberra and acting.

Journalist: Just, perhaps the Mayor Abbey or Senator Molan, the Barton’s considered one of the most notoriously dangerous roads in Australia, do you anticipate duplication will have a really major effect on reducing dangerous driving and accidents? 

CR Rowena Abbey: I certainly believe that will make an enormous difference to our community. Unfortunately we had another two fatalities the other day, which is a giant tragedy for the families. But having traffic, the problem is that most of our severer incidents and accidents are actually head-on accidents because of the proximity and the closeness of that road.

The frustration, we’ve got 3500 commuters a day crossing the border to work in Canberra, and we have about 2500 coming back to do work in the Yass Valley as well. So, there’s a lot of traffic on that road, it has consistently increased over time. And the conversations we’ve been having with both State and Federal Government is to ensure that we have the most update information to ensure that we actually now get this duplication underway and reduce the accident, and also the severity of the accident because that’s something that’s a very traumatic process for the whole community. The cost to the community of those severe accidents. And we’re having lots of accidents, way too many, and that’s partly the drivers, it’s partly the roads. But it is also the severity of the accidents on this road is actually much higher than many parts of the State.

So, this is a really fantastic process that we’re actually… commencement of the duplication, we’ve had a lot of conversations about overtaking lanes for years, and now we actually have duplication, which is what we believe is the long-term outcome that we need. And we will continue to work with both the State and the Federal Governments, with lots of elections and things coming up, you never know.

So, we as a community, it’s our job is to keep working from our community’s perspective to ensure that this road finally gets duplicated as soon as possible.

Thank you.